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We don’t appreciate Fernando Rodney enough

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A list of closers from five years ago can teach us something about baseball. Specifically, that Fernando Rodney is special.

MLB: Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

We don’t appreciate Fernando Rodney enough.

Check that. I’m pretty sure Twins fans appreciate him the proper amount right now. They appreciate the feeling of watching Rodney close a one-run game. And by “appreciate,” I mean “it’s actually fun to feel like you’ve swallowed a live iguana that is now scurrying around in your stomach, looking for the exit.” Still, he’ll convert more saves than he’ll blow, and that’s kinda fine, even as it’s incredibly unnerving.

The rest of us don’t appreciate Fernando Rodney enough. He’s listed at 5’11”, 230, which makes him a newspaper vending machine compared to other closers. He’s 41 years old, which makes him one of the oldest players in baseball. He’s been around so long that he was on the legendary 2003 Tigers team, which had a surprising amount of future everyday players and pitchers on the roster. Yet even though he’s been around for that long, his career didn’t really get going until he was 35. And now he’s still here, still closing games.

The best way to appreciate Rodney, then, is to list all of the pitchers he’s outlasted. There were 37 closers with 10 saves or more in 2013. We’re talking five seasons ago, which shouldn’t be a baseball eon. And yet these names. They seem like they’re from an era before television, much less the internet. Names like ...

1. (t) Jim Johnson, 50 saves

Oh, he’s still pitching in the majors, even after his 5.56 ERA in 56 innings with the Braves last year, so he gets some of that Rodney fascination. But it’s important to remember a time when Johnson was coming in for the Orioles, and everything was going to be alllllright. He had 101 saves in a two-year stretch, making an all-star team, finishing seventh in the Cy Young voting, and finishing 14th in the AL MVP voting.

And then everything about baseball got a lot harder. There have been ups and downs, and I’m guessing that about half of the people reading this are really surprised Johnson is on a Major League roster right now.

1. (t) Craig Kimbrel, 50

We don’t appreciate Craig Kimbrel enough, while we’re at it. Not just that he’s pitched at the same level for nine seasons, with a career 1.77 ERA and 14.7 K/9, but that he’s as good as ever right now. My only regret is he led the AL in saves five years ago, which meant he shows up early and ruins the impact of all the randos who will show up much later.

3. Greg Holland, 47

This was the beginning of the golden era of the “Calm down, Royals, seriously” bullpen that led to two pennants and a World Series championship. But it’s entirely possible that we’ve seen the last of him as a closer, considering his current struggles with the Cardinals. His mysterious decline in the second half doesn’t look like a blip right now. His odds of becoming another Rodney are extremely low.

They’re low for everyone. That’s the point, here.

4. Mariano Rivera, 44

We definitely don’t appreciate Mariano Rivera enough.

What are you talking about? Dude got a rocking chair made out of broken bats and surfboards and crap in ceremonies around the league when he retired. There will be a new biography written about him every five years until 2234. He’s a Yankees’ legend who was honored in the same over-the-top way that every Yankees’ legend is. What do you mean we don’t appreciate him enough?

We definitely don’t appreciate Rivera enough.

5. (t) Joe Nathan, 43

We perhaps underappreciate all of the relievers who make it through the gauntlet of their early 30s. Joe Nathan was a busted 26-year-old semi-prospect with shoulder problems and a 7.26 ERA in Triple-A. He pitched until he was 42 and had one of the better careers of any reliever in baseball history.

How can you tell these guys from the rest of the pack? How does one reliever stay viable until his 40s, and how does another disappear after he’s 26 or 27?

5. (t) Rafael Soriano, 43

We’re getting into existential territory, now. Rafael Soriano was just here. He’s younger than Johnson, but he hasn’t pitched since 2015, and even then, only for six games. The year before that, he was pretty good. Then, poof. Gone.

7. Addison Reed, 40

Addison Reed was a 24-year-old closer wunderkind. Then he was a sneaky relief ace for the Mets. Now he’s 29 and the support for Rodney. What’s his future? Is he going to last for a few more years? Would you want your team to give him a six-year contract at drastically under-market prices if it meant the worst-case scenario was him sucking up $5 million in payroll in six years? Would he be correct in being interested?

8. (t) Grant Balfour, 38

Oh, those shooting stars, those relievers who emerge in their 30s and shine bright for a few years. Why don’t they get to become Rodneys? Why do their bodies have to be such jerks?

8. (t) Aroldis Chapman, 38

Or is the moral of the story that we should learn to recognize the truly special, the Kimbrels, the Riveras, the Chapmans? There is a class of reliever worth the long-term investment, and it’s a rare class, indeed.

8. (t) Sergio Romo, 38

But it’s hard to predict just which relievers will qualify. Sergio Romo once struck out 70 batters and walked five in 48 innings. Do you know how special that is? That’s Eck territory. And then he lost just a liiiiittle something off his sinker, and maybe his slider was more of a 65 than a 70, and now he’s a Pretty Good Reliever. Maybe. We’re still trying to figure his 2017 out.

11. (t) Ernesto Frieri, 37

Saves can come from anywhere, though.

11. (t) Edward Mujica, 37

Is it wrong to read too much into the idea of the closer? Should we just ride the Edwards Mujica as long as we can, then figure it out on the fly? One minute he was being introduced as a National League all-star, and the next he was scrapping for NRI status.

11. (t) Fernando Rodney, 37

It’s possible we should just keep going with the hot hand until it’s ice cold. Because if you do that, sometimes you’ll end up with a strangely valuable reliever like Fernando Rodney who refuses to leave.

In his MLB debut, Brandon Inge was his catcher, and he faced Corey Koskie, A.J. Pierzynski, Jacque Jones, and several other extremely Twins names. That seemed like an important time-is-a-flat-circle point to make.

14. Glen Perkins, 36

How long do we wait for bruised and broken closers to return? Glen Perkins was one of the coolest cats in baseball, and it was worth waiting for him. But he floated away. As they do.

15. (t) Steve Chisek, 34

Ah, maybe along with Romo, we have something of a Unified Theory of Relievers: Funk will last longer than power. Chisek is still around, still getting outs for a contender. So if you have to choose between funk and power, go with funk.

15. (t) Casey Janssen, 34

[googles “Casey Janssen” furiously]

Wow, eight years with the Blue Jays, I mean, of course I knew that.

17. (t) Kevin Gregg, 33

I guess we can all agree on the idea we should ignore the just-a-guys, which is to say, the guys who don’t have extreme funk or throw 98. On one side, you have the Romos. On the other, you have the Kimbrels. In the middle you have temporary fixes, even if those fixes last a few years, occasionally.

17. (t) Jason Grilli, 33

Except, hold on, aren’t we celebrating Rodney, here? He might be the best example of those temporary fixes. And yet he’s still kicking.

17. (t) Huston Street, 33

He’s outlasted closers who used to be the elite of the elite, perennial all-stars.

There is no Unified Theory of Relievers. There is only chaos.

20. Jonathan Papelbon, 29

And the chaos will consume them all. It will consume the funky. It will consume the hangers-on.

21. (t) Jim Henderson, 28

It will consume the lucky few who are pitching for the Brevard County Manatees one minute and closing for a Major League team the next.

21. (t) Kenley Jansen, 28

It just might consume the elite of the elite when you least expect it.

Be careful not to jump to conclusions, though. Seems like a great way to look like a dummy.

23. Chris Perez, 25

Closing is hard on the human body, after all.

24. (t) Joaquin Benoit, 24

But it says here that Joaquin Benoit isn’t on a Major League roster, and I refuse to believe it.

24. (t) Tom Wilhelmsen, 24

Perfect stories come, perfect stories go. Here’s a closer who was suspended twice for weed and ended up bartending at a tiki bar for five years. Then he was responsible for everyone’s emotions at the end of a very long baseball game.

Closers are weird, man.

26. Bobby Parnell, 22

For four seasons, Parnell was a huge part of the Mets’ bullpen plans. In this season, he became the interim closer, saving 22 games and posting a career-best ERA.

Then he was gone.

But Rodney is still here.

WHY? I mean, I’m into it, but how does this happen?

27. (t) Koji Uehara, 21

Even the most entertaining of them all will eventually put up a 10.80 for the Yomiuri Giants when they’re 43. Metaphorically speaking.

27. (t) Jose Veras, 21

But I think we’re coming closer to that unified theory. Beware of the just-a-guy pitchers without superlative strikeout stuff or extreme funk. They’ll ghost you.

29. Rex Brothers, 19

It doesn’t matter if they come from the left side or the right, or if they have youth on their side or not.

Oh, wait, Brothers had superlative strikeout stuff. Guess we have to adjust this theory.

Don’t trust any relievers to last deep into their 30s without superlative stuff unless they’re Rodney. That’s the unified theory.

30 (t). Rafael Betancourt, 16

Or Rafael Betancourt. Rodney and Betancourt, those are the only two.

Reminder that Betancourt hit a batter in the 10th game of his career and then didn’t hit another batter in the next 670 games he pitched.

But even Betancourt had to go away one day. Which means we’re left with Rodney.

30. (t) Danny Farquhar, 16

Farquahr is still on a Major League roster. Seems like a bar bet that could make you money. Except he’s still five years younger than Rodney was when he was established as a late-inning presence.

Respect Rodney.

30. (t) Mark Melancon, 16

He has outlasted the billion-dollar closers who were on their way up.

33. Heath Bell, 15

He has outlasted the all-stars who knew how to make an entrance.

34. Brandon League, 14

He has outlasted the pitchers with superlative stuff who didn’t know where it was going.

35. (t) LaTroy Hawkins, 13

He’s just a year away from outlasting LaTroy Danged Hawkins, if you can believe it.

35 (t) Brad Ziegler, 13

He’s outlasted the funk.

37. Francisco Rodriguez, 10

He’s outlasted the power.

I’m not saying that Twins fans need to be excited when Rodney comes in to close a one-run game. I’m saying that the rest of us should marvel at how rare it is for a closer to last five years, even. How rare it is for one of them to make it into their 40s while still being at least halfway effective. How rare it is for someone with little more than 94 mph and a sweet changeup to continue to get hitters out.

How rare it is for all of these components to be found in one package.

Maybe we appreciate Rodney plenty. But it won’t cost anything if we go overboard for a post or two, so here you go. That’s a list of 37 players who were busy saving wins and making money for baseball teams just five years ago. Just five of them are still saving wins. One of them is Rodney. He gets no respect, I tell you. Please tip your cap to him, and then place it back on your head slightly askew. The arrows will come back down one day, but they aren’t falling on us yet.

He really is a unique snowflake, this one.

We probably don’t appreciate Fernando Rodney enough.